The Mystery of the IMI 9mm Revolver

One of the most maddening Israeli-made handguns to track down has been the “IMI Revolver 9mm”. There is simply very little reliable information about it floating around on the internet due to its age and lack of commercial imports.

There are conflicting accounts of what caliber the revolvers were chambered in (9×19, .38 Special, or 9×21), whether they were based on the S&W 1917 design or S&W Model 10 design, and whether they were ever produced in any real volume. (All sources agree that they used half-moon clips, which at is something, I guess.) Internet legend has it that the Israelis made them for the Palestinian Authority’s police units after favorably evaluating the 9mm S&W Model 547 (a different gun entirely), but the total lack of them in imported Israeli police seizure lots is baffling, if that is true. I have spent some time researching the issue, and I think I’ve got a better theory as to what’s going on.

The first source of information I have is the Security Arms website write-up. The description alleges that these revolvers were originally made in .38 Special, and then were converted later to 9mm. Two different barrel lengths (4″ and 6″) were made (and a picture is included). They were supposedly made since the “50’s”.

That “made since the 50’s” timeline poses some problems. I think it’s true, but the S&W Model 547 was only manufactured in the 1980’s. I don’t really believe that IMI was making revolvers during the 1980’s – and if they were, why didn’t we see any sold in the United States? I am skeptical that the Palestinian police were ever really equipped with IMI revolvers in significant numbers. The Israelis were long finished with revolvers for domestic use by the mid-50’s, if not sooner.

Wikipedia and a couple other sources have alleged that the IMI Revolver was based off the S&W Model 10 platform. To me, this makes more sense – the Israelis acquired a good number of WWII S&W Victory revolvers for use during their war of independence, and it would fit in well with their habit of copying other WWII arms (Johnson/Dror, Sten, etc.). Wikipedia further claims that the guns were chambered in 9×21, not 9×19. Unfortunately, no source is given. Again, I am skeptical of this, as the Israelis did not produce 9×21 guns for domestic use (9mm and .45ACP are the preferred handgun calibers in Israel).

In a stroke of luck, I did find an auction of a presentation-grade IMI revolver presented to a US general. This auction has numerous high-quality photos, which I’m not going to reproduce here. I do encourage you to look at the auction and view the pictures, though.

The really surprising information out of this auction is the claim that the IMI revolver was NOT mass-produced at all. Instead, according to a letter from IMI, only about 50 were made in 1951/1952, and all of them were presentation guns. The letter also confirms that IMI Revolver was indeed a copy of the S&W Model 1917.

So, what do we know?

  1. The IMI Revolver was a copy of the Model 1917.
  2. The IMI Revolver was only produced in small numbers in 1951 and 1952.
  3. At least some of the IMI Revolvers were originally produced in 9mm (and were not later conversions).

This does not necessarily rule out the Israelis doing 9mm conversions to S&W Victory revolvers, or having produced some other model of revolver that IMI didn’t bother to mention in the letter shown in the auction. But, in my mind, the preponderance of evidence is that the IMI Revolver 9mm is essentially a unicorn, and was never mass-produced. Even if I could find one, I doubt I could afford to buy it – the auction that I linked to sold for a bit over $18,000. Yes, that’s an unfired presentation grade revolver, but even less exotic ones are going to sell for thousands of dollars. I also very much doubt that any other Israeli revolver was ever made.

If you absolutely must have an Israeli revolver, your best bet is to hunt up a .38 Special Webley Mk IV “Israeli contract” revolver. These saw real Haganah and IDF use, even if they weren’t manufactured or designed in Israel. You can find them with Israeli proof marks, and they’re still a very important piece of Israeli history in relationship to British Mandate Palestine.

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